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Eating Fish May Be Associated With a Reduced Risk of MS

Omega-3 fatty acids, combined with a specific genetic profile, may modulate MS risk.


LOS ANGELES—Eating fish at least once per week or eating fish one to three times per month, in addition to taking daily fish oil supplements, may be associated with a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a preliminary study presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 70th Annual Meeting. These findings suggest that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish may be associated with lowering the risk of developing MS.

Annette Langer-Gould, MD, PhD

“Consuming fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to have a variety of health benefits, so we wanted to see if this simple lifestyle modification, regularly eating fish and taking fish oil supplements, could reduce the risk of MS,” said lead study author, Regional Lead for Clinical and Translational Neuroscience for the Southern California Permanente Medical Group in Pasadena, and Clinical Assistant Professor at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

For this study, researchers examined the diets of 1,153 people (average, age 36) from the MS Sunshine Study, a multiethnic matched case–control study of incident MS or clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), recruited from Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Researchers queried participants about how much fish they consumed regularly. Investigators also examined 13 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in FADS1, FADS2, and ELOV2, which regulate fatty acid biosynthesis.

High fish intake was defined as either eating one serving of fish per week or eating one to three servings per month in addition to taking daily fish oil supplements. Low intake was defined as less than one serving of fish per month and no fish oil supplements.

High fish intake was associated with a 45% reduced risk of MS or CIS, when compared with those who ate fish less than once a month and did not take fish oil supplements. A total of 180 of participants with MS had high fish intake, compared with 251 of the healthy controls.

In addition, two SNPs, rs174611 and rs174618, in FADS2 were independently associated with a lower risk of MS, even after accounting for high fish intake. This result suggests that some people may have a genetic advantage when it comes to regulating fatty acid levels, the researchers noted.

The study suggests that omega-3 fatty acids and how they are processed by the body may play an important role in reducing MS risk. Dr. Langer-Gould and colleagues emphasized that their findings show an association, and not cause and effect. More research is needed to confirm the findings and to examine how omega-3 fatty acids may affect inflammation, metabolism, and nerve function.

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